Weekend racquetball warriors, or occasional tournament champions, beware of intensive workouts if you are not already in good condition. There are dangers inherent in intensive workout experiences when the body is not already in condition to withstand such intensity.
Various injuries occur to those who risk overuse syndromes. In the upper body this includes rotator cuff tendonitis and tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Lower body hazards include ankle sprains, low back pain and hip discomfort. Contusions (bruises), strains, sprains and abrasions are more likely to occur when our usual reflexes and instincts are not geared with recent practice for the intensity of racquetball camps or tournaments. Muscle tone, hand-to-eye coordination, reflexes and a multitude of body interactions must be tuned and gradually made ready through workouts.
The cardiovascular system also requires gradual change. Muscles require tone, so does the heart muscle. The heart is basically a four-chambered muscle and like our calf muscles must be warmed up, cooled down, conditioned and cared for. Lung capacity and the oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells is affected by our fitness level. Both must be working at peak abilities to reach peak exercise. The three important factors in our cardiovascular system pertaining to fitness are heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output, which is a measure of a heart’s functional efficiency. The optimal balance among these three factors can only be obtained by regular exercise and the equation between them is skewed in one direction or the other when an unfit cardiovascular system is put through rigorous exercise.
Another hazard to the weekend warrior is leg cramps, related to bodily mineral and electrolyte abnormalities and blood flow characteristics. Heat exhaustion and on occasion heat stroke are also potential problems.
How can we avoid these problems?
The obvious answer is regular workouts in anticipation of intensive tournament or camp situations. Warmups should include a minimum of 10-15 minutes involving all major muscle groups with emphasis on the shoulder, hip girdle and low back muscles which take the brunt of much of our activity. When we warmup muscles they work more efficiently, just as the motor of a car works more efficiently at operating temperature. Cool-down is also important. At the end of a peak exercise period, the muscles, including the heart muscle, are geared for full activity. The body has a full load of adrenalin. Coming to a dead halt is dangerous. The pumping action of muscles in our arms and legs returns the blood to the heart for recirculation. If you stop suddenly, this muscles pumping activity stops and the heart has nothing to work with. This can result in low blood flow to the brain with accompanying dizziness and potential for fainting spells.
The body, like any machine, requires rest-and-repair periods. Constant damage occurs with every step and move we make. Regular night and intermittent day rest periods contribute to the healing process, especially in camp or tournament situations. Relaxation periods also allow cool down of emotions and dissipation of excessive adrenalin.
Diet is an important factor that cannot be overlooked. Carbohydrate loading is not advised, nor is the old wives tale that chocolate give you more energy. A high carbohydrate meal several hours prior to play will often sustain one. However, for the average healthy person, the body stores nutrients which will provide ample sustenance.
In summary, for those of you approaching tournament situations or camps, treat your body with respect. When your body is cold, do not expect it to function as though it were warm. We have all had the experience of starting a car on a cold day, depressing the accelerator rapidly and having the car stall. Had the car been warmed up and in good tune up condition, the stall would not have occurred. Let us not take a chance on stalling our body motors.
By Richard A. Honaker, MD, and IRT contributor, had been an avid right-handed racquetball A player since medical school in the 70s, until two rotator cuff surgeries forced him to go southpaw, swinging like a never-ever while moving like an advanced player. His fitness and court sense came through, as he played his way back into his club’s top leage in one year. Dr. Honaker is a senior physician, former president of Family Medicine Associates of Texas, and co-founder of the Jefferson Physician Group, a prominent Primary Care IPA in Dallas, Texas.